27 December 2012

My Lady Anne of Cleves: A FLANDERS MARE?

Anne of Cleves would be Henry VIII's fourth wife. As we know, Henry said he found her utterly repulsive, stinky, probably not a virgin, so ugly that she resembled a "Flanders Mare!"  Whew. Not a kind description to say the least.  Was Anne of Cleves truly so undesirable? Or was the by-then ailing king projecting his own personal problems onto his new wife?

It might have been almost laughable had it not been so sad to describe Anne of Cleves as malodorous, as by this time Henry was suffering from chronic boils and sores which were festering, and by all accounts, horrific smelling. Boils are very painful, and the misery and physical anguish the king was enduring can only be imagined. However, it should be noted, that more than a few members of the court did find Anne of Cleves less than fresh smelling. Before we grow too disparaging of her, the times and conditions in which the Tudors lived must be considered. The whole issue of availability of water is important.  Water was of such poor quality for the Tudors as to render it undrinkable. Indeed, they subsisted on ale and beer in order to hydrate themselves. Bathing was a difficult matter and the masses were not particularly clean. Obviously, Anne of Cleves had every resource at her disposal as Queen of England and could have ordered a bath to be drawn as she pleased. But certain cultural beliefs were also in place, such as the superstitious belief, (and this one  persisted for 100's of years,) that bathing left the pores open and left the newly washed person in imminent danger of absorbing bad air and thus contracting plague and other horrid diseases. Thus, Anne of Cleve's possible lack of hygiene should be considered within its proper context.

Was Anne of Cleves so truly so unattractive as to resemble a Flanders mare?  Modern historians are mostly in agreement; Anne of Cleves was not unattractive, in fact, many people are of the opinion that the discarded queen was rather pretty. Delicately featured, with almond shaped eyes, a finely shaped long nose,
and a perfectly nice mouth, it might have seemed:  What wasn't to like?

The case of Anne of Anne of Cleves, however, was more complicated than it seemed at first glance.  (And aren't all things in life just so?)  The styles of the Cleves sisters, reflecting those of their own Germanic world, were decidedly unappealing to the lusty men of the English court. Their tastes ran to the gorgeous form-fitting velvet and brocade gowns worn by such beauties as Anne Boleyn and her sister Mary. The French hood, which showed a good deal of a woman's face and hair was also very attractive to the male eye. Anne of Cleves wore an entirely different style of clothing, and it is clear that Henry found it decidedly unappealing from the word 'go.'

But let us return to Henry's claim that his new bride was ugly.  It was thought by some at the time, and still , that perhaps Hans Holbein had slightly flattered Anne of Cleves when he painted her portrait at Henry's request. But had he?  Perhaps, after all, many monarchs and nobles, eager to present younger, more pleasing faces to the world, had often encouraged those who painted their likenesses to made them look as nice as possible.  It is doubtful, though, that Anne of Cleves would have made any such statement as she was quite silent through the entire negotiations process prior to her nuptials.  Did Holbein think Anne to be so lacking in attractiveness he felt the need to embellish things a bit? Had Cromwell made such a  request?

 It may help to consider the opinion of a non-biased contemporary source, and this was Charles de Marillac, the French ambassador.  After first seeing Anne of Cleves, his opinion was that Anne of Cleves appeared to be about 30,  tall and slender, and "of middling beauty."  And so, Anne of Cleves may not have been looked as young as she was, (actually 24,)  nor as pretty as the people had hoped. Anne may not have been a radiant beauty, at least in Marillac's eyes, but the description of "middling beauty," is a far cry from looking like a horse!

It is far more likely that Henry's rejection of the likable Anne of Cleves had much more to do with a disastrous first impression, than any of Anne's supposed personal defects. (And we all know what is said about first impressions.)

Lady Anna traveled to England with foremost in her heart, a desire to please her king.  She was determined that Henry find her pleasing in all things.  Fifteen Clevian ladies arrived with Anne, to the annoyance of some in Henry's court. (Remember that it was already clear that these ladies and their mannerisms and styles were not pleasing to the English male courtiers.)  The weather grew foul and the ship was tossed but Anne of Cleves remained sweet and kind to all around her.  Anne of Cleves even asked if someone might teach her the manner of card games which would please her new husband. The Earl of Southampton did this and reported that Anne played with "good grace" and as any noble lady should.

Finally, on 27 December, Anne of Cleves made the crossing from Calais to Deal. By this time Henry had been waiting for some time at Greenwich, and his patience had worn quite thin, his nerves frayed. A 50 ship fleet including a vessel carrying Anne arrived at Deal early in the evening. Received by the Duke and Duchess of Suffolk, the weather was frigid.  Lady Anne was taken to the Canterbury abbey of St. Augustine's to rest for the night.  Anne spent the night at the abbey and then left for Rochester on 31 December, where she was escorted to Bishop's Palace.  Suddenly, and with no advance warning, Henry announced to Cromwell that he would pay his new bride a visit! Henry rode with haste from Greenwich to Rochester, along with several of his men from the Privy Chamber. It was New Year's Day and Henry and his men were attired festively, in multi-colored cloaks.  When the entourage arrived Sir Anthony Browne, Master of the Horse, was sent up to Anne's room to notify her that Henry had a New Year's Gift for her.  Disguised behind the festive cloak, Henry burst into the room, and Anne continued to watch the bull-baiting from her window. She had no idea who the men were who had entered her room, still knew no English, and said little more than a 'hello' of sorts. After that she turned back to her window. (Her fate may have been positively sealed in the moment.)  Then unexpectedly, Henry embraced Anne. She still didn't seem to know who this odd visitor was, and so, she turned yet again to the window. Henry marched into another chamber and donned a purple robe signifying royalty, and returned to Anne who immediately recognized her king, as also others present in the room bowed deeply. Anne of Cleves immediately humbled herself, but it seems the damage was done. While she and Henry were certainly polite with their few words, his first impression of her was ruined. The first thing King Henry said to Cromwell, after leaving the chamber and Anne of Cleves in it was the famous:  "I like her not."    I

1 comment:

Carla W. Kennedy said...

If one were to look at the portrait that is attributed to Hans Holbein, the Younger, you would see a poised, very serious – almost severe, young Germanic renaissance woman. Maybe her clothing may have been considered unfashionable at the time, but then she was covered well and exhibited a modesty that the court of Henry VIII had long past seen since the days of Catherine of Aragon.

The first meeting between Henry and Anne probably was the catalyst to Henry’s dislike. After all, he was used to women fawning over and throwing themselves at him and all Anne showed him was a casual, cordial disinterest. Oh Well. Al least she left the marriage with her head, the kings personal epithet for her – “The King’s Beloved Sister”, properties and an annuity which kept her in “sisterly” style.